This weekend was filled with spectacle – on Friday night, I bopped on down to the Orpheum Theatre on Market and saw Wicked, and on Saturday night, I caught Watchmen in IMAX. Two huge spectacles, both satisfying in their way.
First, Wicked. Pretty cool! I’ve been aware of this musical for a long, loooong time – I used to teach a lot of younger students, and the devotion that a certain subset of my students (the 13-year-old girlish ones) showed for this musical was pretty fanatical. I went in knowing a little of the backstory, and only a few of the songs (the usual ones – “Popular,” “Defying Gravity,” “I’m Not That Girl”). I really enjoyed the production of the show, and Teal Wicks, who played Elphaba (the green witch), had some serious pipes. Damn. However, I couldn’t quite get over the fact that the music was… just… lacking. In every department. Almost to the point of ridiculousness? I suppose that since I’d heard a few of the songs beforehand, I should have known what to expect going in, but by and large, the songs in Wicked are so loaded up with pop cliches, both musical and lyrical, that they are rendered almost unnoticeable.
Forget about comparing these songs to Harold Arlen’s work in the original Wizard of Oz – I can’t even compare it to the music in any Broadway show I’ve seen. Anything by ALW? No way. Rent? Same sport, utterly different league. Sondheim or Bernstein? Don’t make me laugh.
Which raises the question – do Broadway musicals no longer aspire to contain great original music? I don’t really know what I’m talking about here, since I never really go to shows, but from what I’ve seen lately, most of the big-ticket shows are so-called “Jukebox Musicals” like Mamma Mia, Movin’ Out, and Jersey Boys. I’m guessing that there are some good new ones out there, I just don’t know of them. Maybe someone can enlighten me – what new Broadway musicals (if any) are out there that feature strong original music?
Watchmen was just great all around. I have read a lot about it online now, and don’t have a ton new to add, other than my overall opinion, which is that Zack Snyder did an absolutely fantastic job. I’ll direct you to Mick LaSalle’s review at The Chronicle, Andrew O’Hehir’s review on Salon, and Joe R’s review on at Low Resolution. I agree with most of what each of those gentlemen said.
I saw the flick in IMAX, which was cool, but got there late and had to sit in the front row, which was not so cool. I’ve never felt so owned by a screen before. Yikes! Anyhow. I finished the graphic novel just days before seeing the movie, so it was still fresh in my mind. As a result, I felt like I could truly appreciate the (frankly astonishing) degree to which Snyder adhered to the source material… it really was like watching the characters on the page come alive.
Jackie Earle Haley was really, really great as Rorschach. I also thought it was cool that the actor who plays the right-wing sociopath has a total three-part assassin name. Also, seeing his mask in motion was one of my favorite cinematic grace notes – it looked exactly like I imagined it would look, and never got old. The fight scenes were also great, and superbly choreographed and directed. What’s more, the action depicted really managed to capture the ambiguity about the nature of these people’s “superness,” something that I enjoyed in the novel. The Watchmen were normal people (except, of course, for Dr. Manhattan), but they were also more, and the graceful and occasionally bizarre fight scenes captured that wonderfully.
I did really miss the scenes at the newsstand, as well as some of the backstory that had to get cut out (particuarly of Ozymandias, whose character got the shortest shrift in the adaptation), but I’m more than willing to cut slack to the writers. They did a fantastic job of cutting “fat” from a novel in which basically no fat exists. I’d say that anyone who saw and enjoyed the movie and hasn’t read the novel owes it to him or herself to pick up a copy and experience the whole story.
(SPOILER!) Last thing – surprisingly, I really liked the change they made to the ending. For some reason, I thought that they weren’t going to kill Rorschach for whatever reason, which would have sucked. Instead, by getting rid of the squid and changing the “new evil” to be Dr. Manhattan, the story felt tighter, and the resolution even cleaner. I don’t know which of the two credited screenwriters had that idea, but it was a damn good one, and I’m astounded that they so effectively managed the double feat of sticking to the source material AND knowing when to change course. (END SPOILER)
Anyway. I liked both epic “w”-beginning shows I saw this weekend, and I recommend seeing both. If you’ve yet to see Wicked, it’s playing at The Orpheum until September, so you can doubtless find a time to see it. Just don’t expect to hear another “Over the Rainbow,” or even a “La Vie Bohem.” It’s a bit less “Great American Musical” and a bit more “High School Musical.” But still loads of fun.
And if you’ve yet to see Watchmen, see it in IMAX, and get there early enough to get a good seat. Also, if you’ve got some free time, read the novel before seeing the movie; it’ll make the movie even better. And when was the last time that was true?